At least 63 members of Colombia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community have been killed in the first eight months of this year, according to the Andean country’s human rights ombudsman, while other acts of violence also increased.
Among those killed were 17 transgender women, 12 gay men, six lesbian women and one transgender man, as well as others whose sexual orientation and gender identity could not be specified, although they belonged to the LGBT and intersex community, the organisation said on Tuesday.
Intersex refers to people who have reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not conform to typical definitions of male or female.
The ombudsman, an independent organisation that promotes human rights in Colombia, did not immediately include comparative figures from the same period in 2019 as collection of the information started this year.
From January to August, the organisation reported 388 cases of violence against LGBT and intersex people, mostly in the form of physical and psychological aggressions, up from 309 cases in the whole of last year.
“During the pandemic prejudice and discrimination have been exacerbated while obstacles to accessing justice in the receiving of complaints increased,” the ombudsman said in a statement.
The organisation, which also cited 36 cases of aggression by police officers, called on the government to develop a concrete action plan to stop violence due to prejudice and fight institutional discrimination that affects this community in all areas and spaces.
The new statistics come as Colombia has been rocked by a wave of massacres.
The massacres, defined as the murder of three or more people in a single act of killing, have taken place across the Latin American country, from the western state of Narino to the state of Arauca on the eastern border with Venezuela.
A young woman shouts protest slogans during a demonstration against the massacres, in Bogota. Source: AAP
The first of the massacres is thought to have happened on 11 August in the city of Cali when five teenage boys were killed in a sugar cane field.
Since then, there have been at least eight other killings. On 21 August, the bodies of six people were found lying in woodland in the Tambo municipality of the southern Cauca region.
And on 28 August, hooded gunmen killed three people, including a 13-year-old, near the town of Andes in the country's north-west.
People at a demonstration in Bogota, Colombia, on 10 September. Source: AAP
Regional police commander Colonel Ever Gomez reportedly said the gunmen entered a farm and opened fire, killing two people instantly. The third victim died in hospital.
As authorities investigate, various claims are emerging as to what is driving the recent massacres.
Some local media outlets and human rights groups have reported so-called 'COVID death squads' are allegedly targeting those who are breaching virus restrictions during the pandemic.
President Ivan Duque first imposed a national lockdown to control the spread of COVID-19 in late March.
According to a report published by human rights organisation Human Rights Watch on 15 July, numerous armed groups went on to impose their own curfews, quarantines and other measures in at least 11 of the 32 departments of Colombia that have historically been abandoned by the government.
Young people hold a protest banner during a demonstration against the massacres, in Bogota, Colombia. Source: AAP
HRW claims these groups have threatened, murdered and attacked those they believe are not complying with the rules. According to a local university report, at least 30 people have been murdered for breaking quarantine.
"In various communities throughout Colombia, armed groups have violently imposed their own rules to prevent the spread of COVID-19," Human Rights Watch Americas director Jose Miguel Vivanco said.
"This brutal social control reflects the historical failure of the state to establish a significant presence in remote areas of the country to protect communities at risk."
The massacres come as the country recorded the highest number of COVID-19 deaths per capita in recent weeks at 43.1 deaths per million people, according to data from the John Hopkins University.
The country has recorded over 720,000 confirmed cases, and has recorded over 23,000 deaths.
With additional reporting by Reuters